The term we commonly use for what is happening in the Mission is “gentrification.” But the changes at hand are taking place on a far greater scale, and are connected to a nationwide reorganization of places, resources, and possibilities. In his new book, We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation, Jeff Chang, a cultural historian at Stanford, makes clear how extreme this process is, how shocking it would be if it weren’t so slow, subtle, and complex. He draws connections between the transformed geographies of race, the rise of “vanilla cities and their chocolate suburbs,” the gaping economic divide, and the role of police in enforcing the containment of black people in whatever region is deemed theirs, urban or suburban. His book reminded me that all the things I knew about demographic shifts and economic disparity and police brutality and the rest lock together into something fearsome and appalling, like a mechanical shark with innumerable moving parts.
People move into neighborhoods like the Mission voluntarily, but they often move out involuntarily — and when they go, they are pushed to many kinds of margins. We have witnessed a quiet inversion of what cities are and what suburbs are. We have undergone a massive financial rearrangement that has made some of us rich and a lot of us desperate — and at the same time, have seen the desegregation efforts of the 1960s and 1970s unwind before our eyes. In 2012, the Pew Research Center reported that segregation by income, too, was on the rise. We’re coming apart.